Kemp welcomes possibility of Apple Car manufacturing at Kia’s Georgia plant

Nearly completed cars come down the assembly line at the Kia plant near West Point.

Nearly completed cars come down the assembly line at the Kia plant near West Point.

Gov. Brian Kemp said Thursday he welcomed the possibility that tech giant Apple will set up production with Kia Motors Corp. to manufacture autonomous electric vehicles at the automaker’s assembly plant in West Point.

“Kia’s commitment to excellence and its strong partnership with the state only strengthens Georgia’s status as a leader in technology, innovation and manufacturing,” the governor said in a statement that nodded toward reports of the arrangement.

The two companies are close to finalizing an agreement to make Apple-branded vehicles at the sprawling Kia factory, according to talks reported by CNBC, though economic development officials with direct knowledge of the discussions stress the negotiations have not yet been finalized.

Kia and Apple officials have declined to comment on the reports involving the West Point facility, which is the only Kia manufacturing plant in the U.S. and the only major automaker in Georgia. The Korean firm has pumped more than $1.1 billion into the plant, which manufactures the Optima, Sorento and Telluride models.

State officials are keen to point out the economic benefits of a tie-up, thanks to a ready workforce in west Georgia and dozens of parts suppliers already located around the Kia factory.

And Georgia is fast becoming a center for electric vehicles, though not necessarily autonomous brands. SK Innovation, a South Korean company, is building a $2.6 billion plant near Commerce to make batteries for electric vehicles manufactured by Ford and Volkswagen.